Study Supporting “Ex-Gay” Claims Finally Retracted to Much Rejoicing

It seems fairly evident at this point that “ex-gay therapy” is a) ineffective and b) a traumatic way of addressing what’s actually a totally normal and healthy identity. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case. Back in 1970 when Kirk Murphy’s mother entered him into ‘treatment’ by George Rekers, it seemed like the responsible thing to do. And as Gabriel Arana discusses in his fantastic piece “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life,” there were “sympathetic cover [stories] on change therapy” and full-page ads for it from Christian coalitions in the New York Times as recently as 1998.   People could no longer really ignore the reality of homosexuality, but they were still able to hold onto the hope that it could be, if not cured, then at least mitigated; at least it could be successfully relegated to a corner of one’s life where no one else had to confront it.

A large part of that conviction was a study conducted by a researcher named Robert Spitzer in 2001. It didn’t claim that ex-gay therapy worked, exactly, but after interviews with 200 ex-gay patients, it came to the conclusion that “at least for a highly select group of motivated individuals, it worked.” Whereas most of the ‘research’ around ex-gay therapy was easily exposed as junk science or was clearly conducted by biased researchers, Spitzer had actually led the charge to have homosexuality declassified as a mental illness by the APA. It seemed like a study from Spitzer, of all people, that validated anything about ex-gay therapy was beyond reproach — and so the specter of “conversion therapy” was propped up for perhaps much longer than it would have been otherwise.

ted haggard

But this week, Robert Spitzer has spoken out to retract that study. When Arana contacts him as part of his essay researching and deconstructing his own history with ex-gay therapy, Spitzer says that “the critiques are largely correct” of the study that has been cited so enthusiastically by so many anti-gay organizations. Ultimately, he says, his study only speaks to how (some) ex-gay patients speak about their own experiences. And as we’re well aware, ex-gay patients who report complete success in repressing their sexual orientation aren’t particularly reliable — Arana points out John Paulk, Richard Cohen, and Michael Johnston as a short list of examples. Spitzer says he’s tried before to speak with journals about publishing a retraction, but was declined; now he’d like to put the study to rest once and for all.

So far, only four months in, 2012 is a year of blows to anti-gay rhetoric and organizations. The revelation of NOM’s shockingly nonchalant race-baiting tactics lost them a lot of credibility with anyone who still believes they’re a credible organization. While ex-gay therapy has already experienced a serious decline — Arana notes that even Exodus International is now “encouraging its ministries to promote celibacy rather than change” — it’s now lost the most successful piece of “evidence” it had going for it, and it doesn’t have anything to replace it with. While some people still resist a shift in thinking — Arana (who has spent time institutionalized and suicidal) reports that his former “ex-gay” therapist asked him, incredibly, “For all this concern about how I damage people, where is the damage?… don’t you think there’d be a busload of people who are damaged?” — it feels like for most rational people, an acknowledgement of the facts as they now appear is obvious. If Arana talks about a sort of “golden age” of mainstream acceptance of the logic behind anti-gay rhetoric, we may now be seeing its end; an inevitable collapse of something that never quite held up under scrutiny in the first place.  And while it may not have come quite in time for some, like Arana or his cohort of ex-gay therapy ‘graduates,’ it’s better late than never.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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29 Comments

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    Ummm…. I don’t know if you guys have control over this (maybe it’s Google ads that determines this), but the ad in the top right-hand corner of the screen right now (where the o.b. ad usually is!) is for traditionalvalues.us and says “Homosexual sex acts taught in elementary school? Say NO! Sign the petition.”

    Because, ya know, we’re all about the recruiting in the elementary schools. Very scary bunch, we are.

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    I dunno. For all I joke around with others here on this website and in real life, the truth is that I still struggle (a lot!) with what I “learned” in reparative therapy. Sometimes I still feel like since I didn’t change, God must hate me. And when God hates you, what’s the point, y’know? Of anything. It’s a rough rodeo to be in.

    I guess what I mean to say is, yeah, the article is totes right. This stuff is a load of crap and it doesn’t change you, it just does its best to break you.

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    I’m getting an ad up there for marylandmarriagealliance.com.

    It says:

    “Should the people of Maryland decide the definition of marriage? Click here to get your petition”

    I clicked it because I wasn’t sure what it was about, but determined it’s definitely an anti-gay site.

    Staff, please look into this – looks like Autostraddle is being targeted … makes me want to punch someone in the neck!

    Thanks,
    Jaime

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        See, I think it’s fine to oppose same-sex marriage *for yourself*, but as soon as you try and limit what *other people* can do… gtfo.

        Also, I find it highly suspect that Google brings up 0 hits for a “Gays Against Same-Sex Marriage Coalition”…

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          There is a range of grounds for opposing marriage, including nonsense as well as compelling arguments.

          You know what, I think this topic would make an excellent article!

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          What I’m seeing there is actually something I support – defacto rights. I’m lucky enough to live in a country that has them! Australia extends defacto rights to all couples (but marriage only to opposite-gender couples, which obviously I don’t agree with). People who don’t want to get married don’t have to in order to secure rights for their partners and families.

          But I do think there is value in having an institution as well for those who do want it.

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          I’m glad you see the similar goals of our two stances, because protecting rights are at the center of both (only, I would say the marriage-equality movement isn’t doing enough to protect *everyone’s* rights).

          I am curious about where you see the value in the institution of marriage, when the oft-cited ‘redeeming factors’ such a commitment or social recognition can be equally obtained outside the institution. In other words, what does marriage give you that a contract or commitment ceremony does not?

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          This, a thousand times this. I don’t care what you want for youself but don’t you dare speak for me and try to deny me rights you don’t aprove of!

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          Bhan,
          I would say something very similar: I don’t care what you want for yourself, but don’t deny others their rights.

          We both, I believe, want to protect rights: rights to medical care, adoption, custody, hospital visitation, inheritance, immigration rights, etc. Perhaps we can also agree that some people should not be given special privileges denied to others: tax incentives, banking privileges, societal recognition even.

          You object to those rights and privileges being limited to heterosexual married couples, because you think same-sex couples deserve those rights too.

          I object to those rights and privileges being limited to married (whatever their sexualities) couples, because I think everyone deserves basic rights.

          Marriage as an institution excludes nonmembers from accessing civil rights. Everyone deserves civil rights, and marriage should, in Dina’s locution, “gtfo”.

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    Notice the name George Rekers in the beginning – one of the fix the gays people, and of course a baptist minister.

    Cutie Georgie last year got caught taking a college student he rented from rentboy.com on a trip to Europe for 2 weeks.

    The bullshitter claimed he needed someone to carry his baggage and apparently paid about $15000 for the rentall, the approx cost of a male escort for two weeks from the rentboy website.

    As usual – its just a scam, but the big deal is the money these people fleece out of parent terrified by hateful churches that their kids are gay.

    Bernie Maddoff comes to mind.

    BTW Rekers also founded the hate group FRC. Showed the pix of the head, tony perkins and his sidekick peter spriggs to several gay friends.

    Their conclusion – queer as a 3 dollar bill.

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    From the guardian article, in opposition to the homophobic advertisements:

    “The emotional damage that is done to the individuals who try to suppress their sexuality, the WOMEN they marry and the children they might have is immeasurable,”

    Is it just me or gay women frequently overlooked in these conversations?

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